Despite more than 40 years of progress in disarmament talks, the U.S. has proposed a new wave of spending that threatens to restock and restart the nation’s nuclear arms program at a time that the Congress is considering renewing sanctions against Iran for its alleged nuclear development, and shortly after President Barack Obama announced his commitment to the end of nuclear weapon use.
“Peace with justice means pursuing the security of a world without nuclear weapons, no matter how distant that dream may be,” the president said this past June in Berlin.
According to a recent released report from the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, the U.S. seeks to spend approximately $1 trillion over the next three decades to maintain the nation’s current nuclear arsenal, including buying replacement systems, upgrading existing nuclear devices and replacing nuclear cores.
This action seemingly contradicts previous actions of the Obama administration. In 2010, Obama signed the New START — or the Measures for the Further Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms — Treaty with Russia that reduced the number of missile launchers by half and reduces the number of deployed nuclear weapons both parties have to 1,550 per side by 2018.
The James Martin Center Report also contrasts the Congressional Budget Office’s December report indicating that — despite sequestration — upgrades to the nuclear arsenal will cost $355 billion over the next 10 years. $241 billion of this total includes the planned expansion of the nuclear delivery systems network: including 12 new nuclear-armed submarines, a new land-based missile system and increases in the number of long-range bombers and cruise missiles.
This shift in policy, in fact, reflects directly on attempts by the George W. Bush administration to make relevant the nation’s nuclear defense system as a valid defense posture post-Cold War.
Among the Bush administration recommendations were the Reliable Replacement Warhead Program, which would have replaced existing warheads with newer models; Complex Transformation, which would have restored the nation’s ability to make “pits” or fissile cores and Robust Nuclear Earth penetrator, which would have produced a fission-ready gravity bomb.
Congress rejected all of these proposals when initially introduced. Likewise, during his 2008 presidential campaign, Obama pledged to “set a goal of a world without nuclear weapons and pursue it.” The president doubled down on this sentiment last year with his announcement that based on a review of the nation’s nuclear posture, the U.S.could reduce the size of its arsenal by a third and still maintain an effective nuclear deterrent.
A nuclear world
However, the U.S. has since taken a hardline position in regards to the nuclear threat present due to an increasing number of foreign and potentially hostile parties now having fissile materials.
“To modernize your nuclear weapons stockpile and assure that they continue to stay secure and safe, it takes money, it takes resources,” said Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel Wednesday after touring Sandia National Laboratories and Kirtland Air Force Base, two facilities involved in maintaining the weapons. The defense secretary has added that the nation “has always been willing to make that investment and I think it will continue to make it.”
“In a constrained budget environment, and in a time in which the president has already determined that the United States can reduce our deployed strategic arsenal by a third, … we don’t believe the taxpayer should be asked to build a new triad that’s the same size, the same firepower as the triad that we no longer need,” said Daryl Kimball, head of the Arms Control Association.
The U.S. is currently responding to a situation in which the nation no longer controls the tone of the argument. While the nation remains the only country to deploy nuclear weapons in hostility and against a foreign party, Russia currently holds the most active nuclear arms in the world at 8,500, according to the Federation of American Scientists.
Of these warheads, 1,800 are currently trigger-ready, capable of immediate launch. The U.S. comes in second with 7,700, with 2,700 retired and ready to be dismantled. France has 300; China has 250 confirmed operable warheads, and the U.K. has 225. Pakistan and India both have approximately 110 each. Israel is thought to have 80, although, the country has never admitted to its possession of nuclear weaponry. North Korea has fewer than 10 warheads currently operable.
South Africa is the only nation to have nuclear weapons and to completely disarm. While it can be argued that the disarming was done in fear of the Apartheid State passing nuclear weapons to the control of the African National Congress, the act still represents the only time a nation gave up offensive nuclear capability.
“I don’t want the Russians thinking they have a superior nuclear force,” said Clark Murdock, a nuclear weapons expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. With treaty obligations to defend Japan and South Korea, as well as other members of the Asian community, the U.S. is obligated not only to present equitable force against Russia, but also China, North Korea and any potential threat from the Middle East.
While Iran has confirmed its desire not to engage in nuclear proliferation, Turkey has introduced the possibility of securing nuclear enrichment materials via a proposed technology export agreement with Japan.
“This is an uncertain time, particularly in the Asian sphere, particularly with China getting more and more aggressive and assertive about its territorial claims within the region,” Murdock said. “Under those kind of circumstances, that’s not a time when you take away the overarching security architecture that’s anchored right now on the U.S. nuclear umbrella.”
However, some are starting to see America’s expansion of its nuclear program as an overreach. According to Brian Becker, director of the ANSWER Coalition — an anti-racism advocacy group — the U.S. is attempting to create an international double-standard.
“The new expansion by the United States, the upgrade, the new generation of nuclear weapons is an expansion, and it is a clear violation of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which states clearly that there is an affirmative obligation by all of the nuclear powers to begin the process of nuclear disarmament so that the other countries could be dissuaded from getting nuclear technologies themselves,” Becker told Press TV.
Currently, Congress is debating if sanctions against Iran should continue based on Iran’s possession of fissionable material, despite the fact that Iran entered into a deal with the members of the U.N. Security Council in November. This deal would allow the West to inspect Iran’s nuclear energy capabilities toward disproving the existence of a nuclear weapon program.
The “Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act,” which would automatically institute economic and trade sanctions against Iran if it breaks the existing deal with the U.N. and does not enter into a permanent deal within a year’s time, is currently being considered by the Senate; it already has the support of 54 senators.
“As the Iranian government goes ahead and tries to come to some negotiated settlement to create an easing of sanctions, the United States and Britain arrogantly announce that they are not only going to impose new sanctions on Iran in spite of its compliance with the interim agreement in Geneva,” Becker said.
The economics of fear
While updating the nuclear arsenal may be in order — many of the warhead’s launch computers still rely on transistor tube technology — the scope of the upgrade is being influenced by pork politics.
Support for the proposed upgrade is coming from senators from Wyoming, Montana and North Dakota — where the long-range missiles will be situated — and from Georgia, Connecticut and Washington State — where the submarines and bombers will be built. This presents a landslide in pork for states currently suffering under shrinking budgets, but it represents spending that is neither practical nor rational.
For example, procurement planning calls for the building of five nuclear submarines, 72 strategic bombers and 240 land-based missile systems between 2024 and 2029. This in addition to the American nuclear portfolio — by itself — would be larger than the strategic nuclear strength of China, France and Great Britain combined.
Such spending would mirror the Soviet Union-U.S. nuclear arms race of the Cold War, without a need for such a buildup being present. The yearly cost to upgrade the nuclear arsenal as proposed — $35 billion — exceeds the president’s proposed increase in the national budget by more than $7 billion.
This will promote an ever-increasing military budget at a time when smaller budgets are sought. Worse, without justification for the build-up — beyond the deterrent cry, which the president himself disproved — any new build-up, even if the improvement is in yield and accuracy instead of actual warhead count, will solicit a general sense that the U.S. is seeking nuclear dominance, and not nuclear peace. This will escalate build-ups in other countries, erasing decades of disarmament.
“As the costs loom larger and larger, there is a growing case for reducing the number of weapons the U.S. will build and the cost of these systems as a matter of not only deterrent theory, but of financial prudence,” wrote Jon Wolfsthal in the Huffington Post.